Waiting w/ Serra Hakyemez

with Aneil and Ryan 
Special Guest: Serra Hakyemez

Is waiting political? Can you cut in line at Starbucks during your hectic morning commute?  In this episode of TAL we team up with Serra Hakyemez, a Junior Research Fellow from the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University to discuss her paper entitled, “Waiting, Acting Political, Hope, Doubt, and Endurance in the Anti-Terrorism Courts of Northern Kurdistan”, which focuses on the ways political detainees’ families are actively shaping and constructing community identities while waiting in the courthouse (Brandeis Anthropology Research Seminar). We also discuss the pedagogical effect the process of waiting has on the families and the role of repetition.  Whether you are waiting in line or waiting for our newest TAL episode to download take some time to scroll through our notes!

Why Waiting?

Serra spent time waiting to talk to lawyers, for the trials, and to talk with families. She noticed that waiting seemed to be a large part of the judicial process. She found that even the courthouse is designed for people to wait in it (i.e. long hallway with a long line of chairs).

Outside of the courtroom there is a hallway where families are expected to wait for long periods of time (often decades!) for the trial of their family members. Inside the courtroom there are no chairs and it is designed to make those within it uncomfortable. The trials themselves are often over in 15-30 minutes.

Is Waiting Static? A frame of inaction?

Short answer is no. Waiting for the trial forces the families to schedule their domestic. work, and political lives around the time they will be waiting. Families and lawyers spend their time actively seeking out judges, lawyers, and other families. They are constructing a community through which they can protest against the state and find hope.

The actual process of waiting is a spectacle or a ritual of the state. It is a way for the state to inscribe its power on the people.The families are building these communities within the courtroom to work against the state and state violence.

Check out this link to learn more about ethnography and waiting

Becoming While Waiting

Action is part of the endurance of waiting as it makes waiting bearable. The feeling that you cannot act results in either feelings of impotence or cynicism. Serra found that the families felt neither of these.

Instead of being inactive, the families were discussing the news and how it might affect their situation. They organized protests against the judges and the court system. The families were becoming political while waiting.

The families are exploring the dynamic between the PKK and the state. They are acknowledging the presence of this external force on their daily lives and are becoming actors within this process by becoming a protester or a “terrorist”.

There is also a pedagogical aspect to waiting in the courtroom with many children of political detainee families wanting to become lawyers. By observing the trials for most of their lives, the families often end up knowing the laws better than some of the lawyers.

Check out the links below to learn more about the PKK.

Who are Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels?

Who are the Kurds?

When Does Waiting in Line Matter? Can You Pay Your Way in?

Freakonomics Radio made an episode to answer these very questions. They found that people are waiting because of an unspoken agreement that everyone in line will follow the same procedure of waiting in line to get their food. Even though it is not economically advantageous we do it because of this ethical code. We go through this performance of waiting in line or we go against that code.

How do you cheat the system? Freakonomics did some line cutting to figure that out. They found that if you were to try and cut in line there was about a 50:50 chance you would be allowed in. If you bribed your way into line the likelihood of you getting in increased considerably and, curiously, those in line rarely took the money. However, if you try to cut in line more than once your success rate plummets to zero. The people in line may be regulars, so they would recognize the cutters if they came again. A community built around waiting in line for pizza.

Waiting and Community Building

Agreed upon moral codes shape the way the community relates to themselves and others within the courthouse. The families’ identities are entirely linked to the political nature of their family members’ crimes. They show the political through their gestures, tone of voice, and how they care for one another.

Constructing a community identity inevitably excludes those who do not conform. In this case petty criminals and their family members are excluded. Exclusions from group identity can result in violence towards marginalized peoples. The political detainees and their families are the ones reproducing this image of the delinquent, not the state. The delinquent does not fit into their moral code.

Why did the Black Hen cross the road? To create a sense of hope.

A fieldwork story that stuck out for Serra focused on the disappearance of a black hen. After a curfew had been lifted, locals began to take inventory of their things to make sure nothing was damaged or stolen by the state officials. A man realized he his black hen was missing. He rounded up his neighbors and everyone began to search for the black hen. They became incredibly invested in the hunt and finally the hen was found miles away  by a young child. Serra related the joy of the neighborhood at finding the hen to a renewed sense of hope.

Links We Mentioned

Ethnographies of Waiting Panel

Freakonomics Radio: What are You Waiting For?  (episode from Aug 10, 2016)

The ethnography of chai, or an anthropology of waiting

Suggested Song:

Wait For It (Hamilton)

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